Lately I’ve come across several Christian fundamentalist preachers and blog commenters emphasizing “the sovereignty of God.” Their argument is basically that since God is all powerful, and since God created everything, it all belongs to him, and he can do whatever he pleases with it – including casting some of his creations into eternal torment. “Good” is defined as whatever God wishes; our only proper response is to praise him for his power and majesty.
This is what happens when you start with the belief that everyone who doesn’t follow your religion is damned and then devise doctrines to justify that belief. The result is a doctrine of might-makes-right and of absolute ownership. It says that no thing and no person has any intrinsic value or worth, much less any rights of their own. Everything is structured in a hierarchy of ownership – your role is to unquestioningly obey those above you and unmercifully control those below you.
This is a misunderstanding and misuse of sovereignty.
In the Pagan traditions (especially the Celtic traditions), there are numerous Goddesses of Sovereignty. In the liturgy Denton CUUPS has used for the last few Lughnasadh circles, we invoke Morrigan as the Lady of Sovereignty who brings forth the harvest. Goddesses of Sovereignty are representations of the land, its fertility, and its bounty. Kings rule at their pleasure: if the king rules poorly, the Goddess of Sovereignty will withdraw her favor and the land will go barren. You can see this Pagan concept in the Arthurian legends, even though they were thoroughly Christianized by the time they were written down. Marion Zimmer Bradley’s excellent Mists of Avalon shows this very well.
Thus, sovereignty does not represent ownership, but rather stewardship. The land has value and rights of its own – the king merely manages it. The Goddess doesn’t own the land, she IS the land.
When we understand sovereignty in its Pagan sense, we reinforce the idea that everyone and everything has intrinsic worth, value, and rights. We own no thing and no person: not our spouse, not our children, not our workplace subordinates. We are the stewards of the things in our possession and the people in our care. It is our duty to take care of them, not because we’re tending them for some Great Absentee Owner in the Sky, but because the Divine is in them and they have value and worth of their own.
If we nurture them as farmers nurture their crops, then they will grow and become even greater than they were. But if we scream “it’s mine – I can do what I want with it!” like some petulant child, the Goddess of Sovereignty will see that we are not capable of taking care of it and we will lose it, just as the land went barren when the king was corrupt.
Fundamentalists see the universe as a hierarchy of absolute ownership. Pagans see the universe as a network of nurturing relationships. Which version of the Divine do you think is truly worthy of worship?
So the next time somebody tries to tell you about “the sovereignty of God,” just tell them “sovereignty is a Goddess.”